'Magic Mike': Objectifying Males Like Females

What do you think of Channing Tatum's male stripper movie?

I recently went to a weeknight showing in Stamford of Magic Mike, the new R-rated Channing Tatum film about male strippers. My friend Emma and I were running late and had to sit on the side aisle of the packed theater, and shortly after we sat down, a group of women in their mid-forties took over the row behind us.

We were excited for the film to begin, both of us curious feminists interested in seeing how a film marketed as a stripper rom com would treat gender roles and female sexuality (and for the gratuitous male nudity). But the women behind us had no such academic pretenses: they were there to see abs, plain and simple. And the ensuing one hour and 50 minutes sure seemed to satisfy them.

While Magic Mike is hardly a revolutionary depiction of sex work and sexuality, it is the first film I can remember ever having seen that takes such pleasure in objectifying its male stars.

Channing Tatum, whose experiences as a male stripper before breaking into Hollywood provided the foundation for the film, gleefully and expertly gyrates against the stage floor, and Matthew McConaughey revels in his role as the seedy, bongo-playing MC and owner of the fictitious all-male revue.

The almost entirely female audience lapped up every second, myself included. Catcalls, hooting laughter and orders to ‘Take it off!’ were refreshingly shameless and surprisingly frequent. It did not matter that we were experiencing Joe Manganiello’s buttocks through the filter of a movie screen; the theater had the electrified vibe of a nightclub, and the audience wanted to participate.

“I give the plot a D+,” announced the woman sitting behind me as everyone rose to leave the theater. Her friends were not so subtly stuffing empty wine bottles into their tote bags. “But the abs get an A+!” 

Most films produced by Hollywood follow the concept of “male gaze,” a feminist term coined by Laura Mulvey in the 1970s that posits women are usually filmed as the objects of a white heterosexual male audience.

The term can be extended to describe countless beer advertisements depicting scantily clad women serving drinks to rowdy men at the bar, as well as in comic books and video games. This sexual objectification of women (reducing women to objects for use rather than treating them like multi-faceted individuals) is rampant and unyielding in American culture.

Male objectification is far less common. True, David Beckham’s “package” caused a scandal when used to shill Armani underpants, but for the most part male nudity is accompanied by humor, not the intent to arouse. The only other film about male strippers in recent memory is the hilarious and uncomfortable comedy The Full Monty, which is more likely to be described as “heartwarming” than sexy.

Magic Mike may not signal a revolution in film with regard to objectification, and the movie attempts to treat its main characters as individuals who grow through their experiences with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.  But if nothing else, the runaway success of Magic Mike and its sold-out showings all over the country prove that women are hungry for an opportunity to ogle the shiny pecks of Hollywood’s finest.

Hopefully, this will be the first in a long line of films allowing women to have their turn objectifying their male counterparts. If the sweeping success of Fifty Shades of Grey has taught us nothing else, it is that female sexuality is not to be underestimated. 


Editor's note: Here's more on the Web:

  • Arcadia Patch:
Bo July 13, 2012 at 01:48 AM
http://tinyurl.com/886bkyb ^read up, donkeylover
Bo July 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Sorry - I had a hard time responding directly to your point because your entire assertion is based on the notion that 9/10 movies evoke the "opposite" of the male gaze, but I'm pretty sure you have no sense of what that means. Although you don't seem to understand the concept of 'objectification' either, so maybe start there and work your way up. I'm concerned that you are actually suggesting that we live in an entirely equal society (for those who are not white upperclass straight cis-gendered men). Given your stance on the pay gap, I guess you think women rarely face discrimination and oppression too. If you don't believe the pile of statistics on that, how about we take a look at the demographics of the people in congress. Or at least find something other than anecdotal evidence to back up your whining.
Kelly Warden July 15, 2012 at 08:45 AM
Articles like this are terrifying and show how, far from living in an equal society, we are now in a world where men are the objectified party. I went to see Magic Mike this weekend and was horrified. Not by the film so much - although it wasn't great - but by the audience, whose behaviour was outrageous, bordering on disgusting. Oh yes, before anyone leaps on me, I'm a woman. That's right, a woman who doesn't think a film that spends 90 minutes focusing on oiled-up men helps the cause of equality. Please, can anyone point me in the direction of a film like this aimed at men, produced in the last ten years? I cannot think of any movies that generated movie theaters packed full of baying men, smuggling in booze and howling at the screen. Not only does this film hurt the fight for equality, it promote misandry and makes the people who attend and then fill Facebook with statuses about how they 'had one orgasm after another' look like blathering idiots. There is a HUGE difference between countering the male gaze and resorting to the cheap objectification evidenced in Magic Mike. I am reminded of this article http://www.mpshaw.co.uk/2011/01/27/sexism-in-the-cinema/
Jon Stevens July 19, 2012 at 03:55 PM
For decades many men have been used as a means to an end. Utilitarian objects. My father was kicked to the curb after my mother had used him for sperm and a paycheck. After she had all the children she wanted and he was physically broken down from the crippling work to pay for the family,she dumped him. I know many women do not treat men this way,but I am pointing out that men have been objectified by our culture(I am divorcing you. So go away. You can only see the kids four days a month,but keep that alimony and child support check coming) as sperm and money. And now apparently as sex objects as well.
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